February 28, 2023|Reports

“The History of Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley” – Ursula Pearce

On Tuesday 28th February Ursula Pearce, the Heritage and Education officer at the Royal Victoria Chapel, gave us the story behind the original hospital that is now Royal Victoria Country Park. A magnificent Victorian hospital dominated the park fronting onto the Solent, with it’s own pier and railway line.  48 members and guests of Wickham History Society joined Ursula on Zoom to hear how during the Boer and then the World Wars many more hospital buildings were added across what is now open parkland to care for thousands of badly injured servicemen.

The hospital was a pet project of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who visited the site over twenty times during construction – but it was dogged by controversy, vigorously opposed by Florence Nightingale who was a harsh critic of the design, and sadly that was born out by the experience of nursing staff and patients over the years. Nonetheless it was transformational in improving the care of injured servicemen and many new treatments were pioneered on the site until its closure in 1958.

The main hospital building, except for the chapel and officer’s mess, was demolished in 1966. The outbuildings, which included the psychiatric hospital, remained open, finally closing in 1978. A parade through Netley village and a ball and firework display marked the event.

Purchased by Hampshire County Council, the grounds were developed and in 1980 were opened to the public. The area was renamed as the Royal Victoria Country Park. You can still visit the only surviving building – the Netley Chapel – today.  It has an exhibition on the hospital and great views across the Solent from the tower.

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